Friday, June 13, 2008

One plush summer you come to me, ripe and ready -- and bad through and through.

Well, it's that time of year again. Heavy rains are causing misery for several parts of Wisconsin, but they're also making everything as vividly green as the German countryside and check your calendars -- we're but eight days away from summer's official start.

As my seasonal mixes here have become one of the blog's most popular features, it seemed only natural to compile a sequel to the mix that launched everything last summer, summer is a mixtape.

Last year, you'll remember, I included a strict regiment of rules for concocting the perfect summer mix. In the interest of being non-repetitive I couldn't adhere to ALL the rules this time around, but I still will put money down that of all the summer mixes that MP3 blogs will offer this year, you're going to find the very best one right here. Trust me, I know what I'm doing when it comes to this stuff.

As per usual, this mix is intended for the sole purpose of soundtracking: summer drives (provided you can afford them), beach parties, summer cookouts, gatherings at the lakehouse/summer getaway, walks around town on a sunny day and anything and everything else you do that makes you think, "Ah... summer."

Roll on the sequel!

summer is a mixtape. vol. II
The official "Ain't Superstitious, But These Things I've Seen..." summer 2008 soundtrack.

Download Part 1 (tracks 1-10) Here. (Left click for SaveFile page)
Download Part 2 (tracks 11-20) Here. (Left click for SaveFile page)

01. Steely Dan - Gaslighting Abbie
I mentioned last year that Steely Dan's 2000 "comeback" album, Two Against Nature, for me at least, is one of the all-time quintessential summer discs. It's not their best album, but it sounds as shiny as a newly waxed convertible driving down the California coastline. This cut kicks off the album, and from the opening hits of bass, guitar, electric piano and hi-hat, it just demands you put on your shades and sit back. This is the sound of cool ... from two cynical old curmudgeons, no less. I still don't know what "Gaslighting Abbie" means exactly, I assume something a little "blue," "luscious invention for three" and all ... If you do know, don't tell me. I like the ambiguity, and if it's something that would make me twist my face, you'd ruin the song for me. Don't want that.

02. Happy Mondays - Moving In With
Can't have a proper summer without the loud, annoying neighbors at your summer getaway that mostly make you want to go over and complain, but every once in awhile make you laugh and wish you had the same devil-may-care attitude. This cut from 1988's landmark Bummed album is nowhere near their best work, but it dances that line between great amusement and total annoyance very finely and in the end, you're won over. Who else could get away with a refrain of "henny penny, cocky locky, goosey loosey, turkey lurkey, ducky lucky, chicken lickin'"? That's right. No one. And Martin Hannett's frenetically layered production even seems to simulate the sound of all those summer insects that you also love so much. Go on. Dance along with Bez.

03. ? and the Mysterians - 96 Tears
Yeah, you really listen to the lyrics and it's actually quite a depressing song, even if there is hope of redemption. But misery's seldom sounded so sweet and danceable. Hell, the guys could've been singing about things far worse than crying to a point of totally giving up on life and if it would've had that organ lick, it'd still be totally appropriate to put on at the beach. Doesn't it sound like it should soundtrack one of those beach dance scenes in a Frankie and Annette movie? And yet, it's still miles cooler than any song used in those movies.

04. Bebel Gilberto - Baby
This is an old Latin number that Os Mutantes were nice enough to translate into English. Bebel Gilberto picked it up and used it to kick off her self-titled 2004 album, and in one fell swoop, forever captivated me. The sound of pure, languid seduction with a few nice, tall, cool drinks to wash it all down. A summer without some Bebel Gilberto is a summer I don't ever want to experience. This song could probably even take the bug out of Kim Jong Il's butt.

05. Professor Longhair - Tipitina
Okay, so 'Fess recorded countless versions of this, his most famed tune. And yes, it's probably more suited to Mardi Gras than anything else, but this version, from his 1974 album Rock and Roll Gumbo sounds like summer. It's that backbeat -- a little more straight and uptempo than other versions he did. Even the fact that he forsakes all his original brilliant lyrics (e.g. "You are three times seven, baby, and knows what you want to do") in favor of just repeating "Tipitina" and "Tra la la la la" over and over again is forgiveable because everything about this version just equals fun in the sun.

06. James Brown - Sunny
The Godfather of Soul mixes it up with Marva Whitney in front of the jazz stylings of the Dee Felice Trio for a blinding little version of Bobby Hebb's classic -- prerequisite "Good God!" included. This cut led off his 1969 album Gettin' Down to It! and on an album of one highlight after another, this still reigns supreme. Solid proof that James didn't need an oversized backing band with a heavy brass section to conjure all his energy. It's almost like "James Brown Unplugged." And he still brings the damn roof down.

07. Jill Sobule - Cinnamon Park
An idyllic tale of tripping out on 'shrooms and listening to crappy bands. If it really was as nice as this song, from her Underdog Victorious album, makes it out to be, I don't think any work would ever get done 'cos everyone and his mother would be doing it. While still more known for "I Kissed a Girl," Jilly's never lost her talent to spin a good lyric, and it's all the details that make this perfect -- right down to said crappy band's use of a talkbox and Peavey bass. You're gonna wish Summerfest was half as cool as this song's battle of the bands is. Hell, she even saved the piano lick from Chicago's "Saturday in the Park" from eternal damnation. Is there anything this girl can't do?

08. Frank Sinatra - It's a Wonderful World
No, it's not Frank's version of the Louis Armstrong classic -- it's a sweet little swinger from his 1962 Swing Along With Me album. Easy, breezy and among the best stuff he did that the majority of people out there still haven't heard. I'm still not quite sure what exactly a "ring a ding world" is, but it sounds nice. Based on this reccomendation, I think I'd give it a try.

09. Billy Bragg - The Warmest Room
One of the central cuts from Bragg's 1986 classic, Talking With the Taxman About Poetry, where he discovered there could be more instruments on a record than just an electric guitar. Purists moaned, of course, but with the sparse addition here of piano, organ, acoustic guitar and tambourine, it's not like anyone was necessarily talking overkill. While the name Billy Bragg still doesn't necessarily conjure images of sunny days at the lake, this wonderful tale of clumsy love should hit home for any boy who ever experienced a summer romance in his teenage years. And for the rest of you, the best creed ever: "The wife has three great attributes: intelligence, a Swiss Army knife and charm."

10. Randy Newman - Falling in Love
Another uncharacteristic cut from an artist more known for being a cynical (but deadly funny) old grouch. Maybe he'd upped his Prozac intake around the time of 1988's Land of Dreams or maybe it was the fact that he got the then hot-as-hell producer Jeff Lynne to oversee matters on this cut, but this song sounds like it should be playing over the end theme of some terribly cheesy 1980s movie than taking up space on a Randy Newman LP, but c'est la vie. Unorthodox approach withstanding, this song is really charming as all hell.

11. The Essex Green - This Isn't Farm Life
Maybe it's the title or the band's name, but to me, this song always sounded like it was written after listening to a lot of the Kinks' Village Green Preservation Society LP. Of course, the more fun cuts like "Sitting by the Riverside" and "Picture Book" ... Anyway, this song, from the band's 2006 outing, Cannibal Sea, is terribly cute, but not in a way that would induce eye-rolling. The minimalist guitar hook and electric piano pounding is really the lynchpin here, but turning a lyric like "In my kingdom, in my stratosphere" against the appropriate backing is always nice too.

12. Small Faces - Eddie's Dreaming
God bless Andrew Loog Oldham for giving the Small Faces endless studio time and encouraging plenty of drug-taking. 'Cos lord only knows how else one of the most important Mod bands of all time would've come to this attempt at Cockney calypso. If the bongos and woodwinds aren't out of place enough, even Ronnie Lane gets the pleasure of singing the lead. Of course, it also grooves likes its nobody's business.

13. The Kinks - Holiday
A perennial favorite from the Kinks' 1971 classic, Muswell Hillbillies. Falls somewhere between country and western and vaudeville and comes across as one of the most pleasant things ever concocted musically, which is interesting considering Ray Davies was in a personal hell watching his marriage fall apart and Dave Davies was in the throes of a drug-fuelled paranoia. All you music aficionados, meanwhile, might like to listen to this and the Lovin' Spoonful's "Daydream" back to back and notice how Ray cunningly swiped everything from sentiment to structure.

14. Bobby Darin - Lovin' You
And speaking of the Lovin' Spoonful, Bobby Darin here takes one of the band's cuts from their Hums of the Lovin' Spoonful album for himself and gives it a tight little summer swing treatment. The ultimate version of this song, and proof that Bobby really could make ANY damn song he wanted his own. Everything from the scat to the woodblocks is just icing on the cake.

15. Sugar Ray - When It's Over
Okay, maybe this is the moment where I lose a lot of you, and if I don't lose you, I lose your respect, but you know what? F*ck it. Yeah, I know they were ridiculous, yes I know he's Mr. Extra now and yes, I know how cornball "Fly" really was. But for a few summers there, they wrote a few painfully catchy pop songs and this was the last really great one. The summer of 2001 was a good year in my life and this song was almost inescapable during that period. Funny thing is, for once, I didn't really mind it. But the video is still pretty stupid.

16. Neil Finn - Don't Ask Why
Much like Two Against Nature and a bit of Bebel, it just can't really be summer without everyone's favorite Kiwi, the younger Finn brother. This cut made the original version of his One Nil album, but when it was reformatted, retitled to One All and shipped to America, this track was conspicuously absent. Well, my Yankee brethren, I'm here to right that wrong for you and let you hear this in all its sunny glory for your summer parties. "Error gorilla, know what I mean?"

17. Kula Shaker - Shower Your Love
Frequent readers will know both my feelings toward this band and this song, so I won't go into lengthy explanation other to say than not putting this on the mix would've been criminal. An absolutely glorious slice of pop music, and that middle bit -- "I can't wait, I'm losing faith" bit still kills me every time.

18. Ian Brown - Dolphins Were Monkeys (Single Version)
While I'm one of John Squire's biggest fans and it was a huge personal battle to put this on over a Stone Roses song, King Monkey has some fantastic cuts to his name alone, and this single from 2000 is one of them. In my ideal world, this is played at every summer party and everyone smiles and nods at the "No one can judge you, baby, that don't live your life" lyric. We're probably a long way from that, but if you download this, burn it and bring it to all your summer parties, we'll get there quickly. I promise.

19. Peggy Lee & George Shearing - Blue Prelude
Alright, so not everyone's summer is going to be margaritas, bikinis and beach parties. There will be some broken hearts out there, some dudes and dudettes after you that you wish would go bother someone else, and this jazzy cut from the 1959 album Beauty and the Beat! (see, the Go-Go's were so unoriginal) is for all of you with a cynical eye on hot fun in the summertime. Of course, Shearing's hot little musical backdrop still makes this song perfect for the beach.

20. Paul Weller - Long Hot Summer (live)
Like many Style Council songs, "Long Hot Summer" was kind of dated by its instrumentation and production, and while it's undoubtedly a great song, it's something that I wouldn't consider being "for everyone." Thankfully, Paul still thinks there a good soul song underneath the synthesizers and has ressurrected it in more stripped down fashion during recent tours. This cut, from the 2006 live compilation, Catch Flame!, exemplifies just how sweet the song really is, and is the perfect thing to roll you into a summer night or even summer's end.

Enjoy and have a great weekend, all.

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Anonymous j. said...

I love this. Thanks for putting it together!

2:19 PM  
Blogger Dane said...

This looks downright exciting, in that relaxed summer way. Can't wait to escape the office amd download it.

11:24 AM  

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